Set within a traditional bungalow in a leafy neighbourhood of Thillai Nagar, the premises of ‘mom-and-pop’ factory, New Royal Biscuits, is a hive of activity, positively levitating on the fragrance of freshly melted ghee.
We have come at a rather busy time of the day for D Selvaraj and his wife Thilakavathy, as the couple gets to grips with orders for their delicious cookies.
With Selvaraj in charge of mixing the dough to the right consistency using both elbow power and a self-created electric paddle mixer, Thilakavathy oversees the baking part, an operation that requires constant checking of the scrumptious products getting ready in the industrial gas oven in the backyard.
'It’s been around five years since people have begun asking for our biscuits specifically, though we have been in business for 10 years,' says Thilakavathi as she clears yet another batch of cookies for baking. 'We have a few shops that we supply to regularly in Tiruchi, but most of them are word-of-mouth orders for personal deliveries.'
Starting out with the basic ‘naan-khathai’ recipe, New Royal Biscuits has created spin-offs in other ingredients such as ragi flour and sugar substitute for diabetics.
But despite these additions, regular customers swear by their original cookies made using just maida, powdered sugar and ghee. The attractive packaging of these round or heart-shaped biscuits in plastic boxes makes them a good gift idea .
But Thilakavathy and Selvaraj are quite clear about what is responsible for their success: 'God’s grace,' they both stress in unison. 'Whether it is the dough that my husband has to mix to the same consistency every time, or the temperature of the oven that I have to monitor constantly, nothing would work without His blessing,' says Thilakavathy.
Thilakavathy’s belief that the biscuits they were baking at home were better than those being sold in shops led her to experiment with turning it into a business venture. 'We started out on a small scale at first. We used to get a lot of children who used to come over to play with our kids, requesting for these biscuits again and again. As the demand for the biscuits grew, we decided to bake them in bigger batches,' she says.
For Selvaraj, who was a farmer in Thenoor before he became a cookie dough magician in Tiruchi, the learning process has been through trial and error. 'Getting the right combination of ingredients can be tricky, and there have been many days when we have had to throw away several trays of biscuits because they didn’t turn out the way we wanted them to,' he says.
'We have to start from scratch each time the biscuits turn out to be either too brown or too white. It’s better to turn away customers than to compromise on our quality,' adds Thilakavathy.
Their working day starts at around 10 in the morning (it used to be earlier before labour problems cropped up), and goes on until around 10.30 p.m.
At present, the couple employs seven staff to help out with the cookie cutting and packing. Their two children also pitch in after school hours. The baking, however, remains Thilakavathy’s domain, as she says no amount of training has been able to produce a suitably skilled deputy.
'The oven is temperamental, just like a human being who gets blood pressure or diabetes, and sometimes can be too hot in one part over the other,' says Thilavathy.
'We can never predict how the oven’s temperature will get distributed, so we have to calculate our baking time accordingly,' she adds.
'Roughly in a month, we use around 200 kg of sugar and 500 kg of maida. We normally don’t stock up in advance, as these biscuits taste best when the ingredients are at their freshest,' says Selvaraj.
A new cookie-cutting machine made in Hyderabad is set to be installed this week, promising to streamline production.
'I never thought that we’d be expanding our business to such a scale as today’s. We have faced a lot of social pressure because people were not sure that we’d ever progress. But I’m glad our biscuits are being appreciated by more people because we’ve stayed away from using preservatives or flavour enhancers of any kind,' beams Thilakavathy.